How Do I Deal With an Angry Family Member?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

A patient’s family can become angry for any number of reasons. This anger is usually brought on by fear. Their loved one has become weakened, and there’s nothing they can do about it. This is very frustrating, and frustration leads to anger.

If you encounter an angry family member, empathy is always the best medicine—unless, of course, medicine is the best medicine. If they start to shout at you, don’t shout back. The person’s anger isn’t a reflection or a judgment of you as a nurse or a person. It’s a reaction to the fear that family member feels. If the family member continues to shout, get help from a coworker in case the person becomes violent, or calmly remove yourself from the room.

Here are some ground rules for dealing with an angry family member:

1. If they are yelling, stop and just listen. Calmly ask them about this problem. Let the family member voice her concerns, but ask the person in a calm tone not to shout.

2. Don’t get defensive, and don’t take it personally. The patient needs to feel safe. By letting the family member air grievances, both real and imagined, you’re helping to alleviate the patient’s fear. Being a sounding board for concerns sometimes works to calm people down—their anger has built up inside, and voicing it to the nurse often can relieve anger.

3. Ask follow-up questions and ask about specifics. Let the family member know you’re an ally by showing concern for her concerns.

4. Be empathetic. Attempt to address the underlying cause of the person’s anger. It’s most likely fear.

5. Let the family member know you’re there to help. Bring them information to study about the patient’s condition. Try to find a doctor or counselor who has a few moments to talk about the person’s fear.

How do you deal with angry family members?  Share your tips and suggestions in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. Always use a level of volume less than theirs, they have to lower theirs then to hear you. Do not use terms like “honey, sweetie, dear” ….they come across as condescending and demeaning. Remember when the energy is high you need to balance it out with calm energy. You getting elevated only serves as gas on a fire. Listen, really listen. Reflect, stating you want to be sure you have it correctly understood. Never tell them they are wrong, even when they are. If it doesn’t hurt anything own the errors. For example…you know you told them what to bring to the appointment, but what good will it do to try to prove you did, it will only embarrass them and make them angrier. Just apologize and say I am really sorry I did not get that communicated effectively, obviously or you would have done it, I know you would have.
    Above all I use a saying I say all the time…..decide…what purpose will these words serve…will they build this person up, calm them down, help them to feel less volatile, or will they just relieve my frustrations, prove them wrong, put an end to any dialogue….sometimes it is better to hold those words and find ones that are more constructive and serve a greater purpose.
    I always try to put myself in their position….and remember that they do not have the same skill set or life experiences as I so how they are reacting is not wrong, its just different. We all bring a different view to the situation, neither are wrong or right for the most part….the right is usually some where in between all of our versions put together.


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